The 1972 film, The Candidate starred Robert Redford as a neophyte California politician running for the U. S. Senate. Scripted in documentary format, viewers get an up-close look at the twists, turns, and disappointments of running for public office. Fortunately, Redford’s character is putty in the hands of his seasoned campaign managers, so after much skullduggery and nail-biting, the candidate from California wins.
The film’s ending may be predictable, but its closing catches the viewer by the heels. It’s a closeup shot of Redford staring wide-eyed into the camera and looking like an alley cat that’s been thrown into a cage with pit bulls. His supporters in the background cheer and pop balloons while the candidate asks of no one in particular, “What do we do now?”
Most of us know about the fear of failure, but a fear of success is equally debilitating. According to experts, the reasons are threefold. Success means change. Success means taking on responsibility. Success means unwanted exposure. Barrack Obama as U. S. President captured headlines the day he appeared at a press conference where he’d replaced his customary dark suit with a tan one. What did it mean, the journalists speculated.
Some women may submit to patriarchy because they fear success. Subservient roles give them a place in society without having to compete. Statistically, this reticence can be expected. What isn’t expected is a growing number of young people who think women’s rights have gone too far. One market researcher, Kelly Beaver, thinks this longing to take a step backward arises from the achievements of the women’s movement. Change, he points out, can leave people feeling uncomfortable and resistant.
Setting aside women’s status in the third world and theocracies, it’s fair to ask if the benefits women are experiencing in western cultures come at a cost to men. Are our brothers, fathers, and husbands falling behind? Most western cultures don’t think so. When First Lady Jill Biden presented a transgender woman with the Women’s Day International Award for Courage, some criticized her for honoring a biological man instead of a female.
They also pointed out the women’s movement continues to struggle to ensure reproductive rights, including the right to contraception, as well as affordable childcare, equal pay and paid sick leave. In addition, women are underrepresented in Congress and have few seats at the table of corporate power. Given the data, these critics question why a premature concern for the rights of men exists.
With little data to settle the matter, I’m left to speculate. Knowing that the environment can alter gene expression, could women, after centuries of repression, be genetically disposed to subservience? Do Eve’s daughters fear equality?
Before the Woman’s Movement, a few females dared to grapple with the same uncertainty. Simone de Beauvoir was one. In those nascent times, she was canny enough to see the impediments women built for themselves. It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.